You have to jump through a few hoops before Dorna grants you media access to the MotoGP.
They’re not difficult hoops, judging by the people who I saw granted media access, but they need to be jumped nonetheless.
It helps if you have some form. And I appear to have that.
I had been writing reports on the MotoGP for years. I am part of an insanely-popular podcast that celebrates the sport with savage humour and sometimes special insight. And I have, after all, been banging away at this whole motorcycle media thing for more than three decades. I flatter myself that I have runs on the board.
I am not, of course, a journalist. I have no qualifications to make that claim. But I seem to be a bit of an island in that regard. Just because you state you are a journalist, does not mean you are one. And I imagine this position galls many of the shaved apes in the Australian motorcycle media who falsely name themselves “journalist” and have thus milked the industry for decades in a never-ending orgy of nepotism, entitlement, and garbage copy.
And of course Dorna is aware of this. It sees all.
And then there’s the other thing. The Australian MotoGP Corporation does not send me Christmas cards. I have been brutally critical of the way it treats fans who love the sport and flock in their thousands each year to stand out in the paddock in all kinds of weather, or pay stupid prices for garbage temporary grandstands made from scaffolding.
One would imagine the amount of money this Victorian Government organisation spends on these structures is vast. Such money could easily be re-deployed to build a permanent grandstand to seat 10 or 20 thousand folks – or indeed maybe even construct a vast amphitheatre surrounding the entire circuit.
But no. The world’s best racetrack continues to sit in a field of mud, with viciously pot-holed dirt roads throughout the infield, and a paddock area that is utterly shameful in the facilities it offers international racers and their crews.
It’s very much: “Here ya go, champion. Have a tiny, shitty Coates-hired cabin to rest and prepare for your race. Yes, do please piss in a bottle because the only toilets you have access to are public nightmares awash with urine. Yeah, must suck not being able to bring your fancy motorhomes to Australia, aye? But whatchagonnado?”
I fail to understand why the track is unable to provide a building behind the pits for the racers to prepare and rest in. How it is not ashamed to inflict this bullshit on our international visitors is beyond me. I was embarrassed to see it.
So yeah, the Australian MotoGP Corporation and I will remain at odds until such time as it takes this shit seriously and stops treating the fans and the racers like bottomless handy-tellers.
But this was my first interaction with Dorna.
I got my media credentials. And I came to understand there are various degrees of media accreditation. Television media gets access denied to print media. And Dorna-based international TV media gets precedence over local TV media.
In the interest of full disclosure, my media pass was facilitated via Fox Sports and a nudged along by a few people within Dorna who enjoy and appreciate my work. But at the end of the day, you still have to have runs on the board, so to speak. So there goes the idea of getting press passes for your mates, your offspring, or your missus…oh, wait…in some cases that is possible, apparently.
Anyway, so while I had full access to pit-lane and indeed even the pit wall during FP1, FP2, and FP3, and could go pretty much wherever I pleased (understand access to the actual pit garages or the riders’ cabins is by invitation of the teams themselves and not a free-for-all, unless you’re a Dorna TV crew), this access ceases when Qualifying starts.
And then there’s the whole filming rights thing. I shot heaps of footage on my iPhone. The racers would come up to the Media Centre after each session and answer questions in the small print media “scrums” at the front of the big room that houses the media. One could record their answers, and then transcribe them, but one could not film them.
I had no idea. I filmed. I even managed to get a great interview with Ricardo Rossi about how his grandfather raises wolves. I was dobbed in by a fat boy with tits that wobbled like custard. A very nice lady Dorna lady called Frine came to see me.
“Are you from the MotoPG podcast?” she asked.
“I am,” I said, preparing to be escorted from the track by slim-hipped Dorna security men with Krav Maga skills beyond my ken.
“We love the podcast!” Frine smiled.
I was utterly nonplussed, but she continued, “Come and meet Fran, she’s also a huge fan.”
These ladies run Dorna’s international media engagement arm – they are the go-betweens between the media and Dorna. I got hugged in their office, while they both enthused about the podcast.
“And you must meet Ignacio.”
Ignacio is the bloke you see in Parc Firme on TV, who shepherds the racers over to Simon Crafar for post-race interviews. He is the ladies’ boss.
“This is him,” Frine said, indicating me, while I was trying to look as benign as possible – not an easy task when you look like me.
“You make the podcast, yes?” said Ignacio, coming over to me.
“I do,” I said, adopting a self-deprecating grin and once again preparing to be heaved out on my arse.
“Bring Spanish ham and wine and grant him access all areas!” Ignacio laughed. He was joking, of course. But I was once again utterly un-manned by the hugely positive response I was getting over a podcast anyone who listens to will know has no shame and takes no prisoners.
The four of us chatted for a while and it was explained to me I could not film because I did not have filming rights. Filming rights cost metric crap-tonnes of money. I explained I did not know (like who the hell reads the instructions on the Dorna agreement one signs?), apologised profusely and promised to remove the videos I’d shot from my social platforms.
And I did. And it was all good, and I went on my merry way, chastened, but immensely buoyed by Dorna’s attitude towards me and the podcast.
I had arrived on the island on Wednesday morning. It’s a good time to get there. The only people in town are the teams, the locals, and the die-hards who have paid $5000 for a week’s accommodation and intend to spend every day of that week living in that accommodation.
That evening I met Simon Crafar, Matt Birt, Louis Suddaby, and Jack Appleyard in the pub by the water. What nice people, I thought, seconds after shaking hands with them all. Here I was, kicking them to pieces in the podcast for the last two years, and they tell me they’re fans.
In real terms, calling a race live is one of the hardest things in the world. Calling it well? That’s some major kung fu. One needs to look no further than the droning catastrophes offered up at our local race meetings to understand how hard that gig is.
Sure, the Poms often get tied in repetitive verbal butcherings and hackneyed phraseology, but by and large, their race-calling is pretty good – and taken to the realm of true greatness by Simon Crafar’s input.
And Simon’s contribution to the coverage is truly astonishing. He’s immensely knowledgeable, he loves the sport like a shark loves blood, and his gentle, considerate delivery is simply magnificent. His ability to explain complex technical issues in a way even muppets like me can grasp is without peer. He is also one of the nicest and most genuine human beings I have ever had the privilege of meeting. Dorna is blessed to have him – he enhances its race coverage beyond measure.
“When you first started doing this,” I said to him over a beer, “I thought you were smashing bongs before walking out onto the field of battle.”
“I was dropped into the deep end,” Simon laughed. “I’d had no training, no advice – I was just sent out into the circus with a microphone.”
“And what a huge success you’ve made of it,” I said, raising my glass to him.
Over the weekend, I would bump into Simon at the track and was always careful not to impinge upon his enormously busy schedule. But to his immense credit, he always had time for a few words, a laugh, or an insight – and boy, does he have some insight into what’s going on.
On Sunday, after it was all over, and we were all wallowing in exhaustion, I shared a few beers with Simon at the pub on the water and we dissected the weekend, the media, and our respective places in it. Hand on my heart, I have not met a more genuine, kind, professional, and forthcoming bloke in the entire sport. It was a singular joy and pleasure to spend some time with him, and I know we parted as friends.
So what did I do and what was my purpose over the MotoGP? I guess it was to basically walk the MotoGP earth, meet people, absorb the behind-the-scenes experience, and try to convey it to you.
I fan-boyed like a shameless man-hussy. And why not? The racers are not of this earth and even to be near them is a rare privilege not granted to many. I found them all very aware of the fans, and how important those posed photos and signatures are. To a man, they were approachable and happy to pose for pictures. I bothered no one just before Qualifying and on Race day. When it’s Game On, only fools wheedle them happy snaps.
I peered into pit garages boiling with measured intent, and moving seamlessly to a silent beat only the crews could hear. It’s amazing thing to see up close, and it’s absolutely terrifying to stand within a metre of a MotoGP bike that’s fired up. Trust me when I tell you these bikes are not bikes as you and I understand them. They are horrifically savage explosions encased within exotic metals capable of speeds in excess of 350km/h, and would sooner kill you than let you ride them. The blokes who get on them and race them…well, like I said, they are not of this earth.
I found the interactions between the racers and the media very informative. Nearly all of the MotoGP racers had a media minder. Nearly all of them were young ladies with hard eyes and set agendas. I figure this is why controversial things are rarely said, and controversial questions almost never asked. It’s very tightly controlled, and the racers are very well-schooled in dealing with the media – which invariably asks the same old questions and gets the same old answers. Few off-script things ever happen.
I was invited into Cal Crutchlow’s cabin. This was a totally surreal experience for me. It appears his team and him were all big fans of the MotoPG podcast – as is the entire English-speaking cadre of the paddock. His offsider said Cal would be pleased to meet me. I was doubtful. But I went.
A few hours earlier, I had cornered Cal in the media centre and filmed a brief interview with him. After Dorna’s intervention, I could not run the video. But as this was being explained to me, Cal stuck his head in the Dorna office door and said: “I told him he could video me.”
Frine gave him one of her dazzling smiles and explained I did not have film rights. Cal insisted that he had granted me permission to film him, and I should not be copping a bollocking because of that. I said it was no drama, and I really did not want this to be an issue, and I’ll delete it all and we can move on.
An hour later, Cal explained he’d no idea at the time that I was part of the MotoPG podcast.
“I just thought he was some bloke in the media centre chasing an interview,” he told his offsider. “If I’d have known he was the podcast guy, I would have given him a very different interview. And then I saw he was getting a bollocking in the Dorna office. So I went in there and told them I said it was alright.”
Cal was sat topless on a massage bed while he was telling the story of my shame, and there was a large, bald bloke sitting in a chair near him. This bloke was Jake, one of the movers at shakers at Monster, who was also a podcast fan. I felt pretty out of place, but I’d been warmly welcomed and regaled with tales and observations from a storied MotoGP racer who looked as fit as a UFC fighter and twice as tough.
“I’m racing teenagers,” Cal said to me. “It’s not easy.”
Half-an-hour into my visit, I was still agog to be sitting in a cabin with Cal Cutchlow, who had pissed in a bottle rather than subject himself to the public toilet, and told me about how his wife had made Simon Patterson cry at Aragon, then asked me to accompany him inside his pit garage because his head mechanic, Stuart, and his pit crew were all podcast fans, and would love to meet me. The surreal had now been dialed up to 12.
Inside the roller-shutter-down pit garage, both Cal’s bikes were naked, so photos were not permitted until the fairings were on. There was Silvano Galbusera, going quietly about his business, and there was Cal’s pit crew, headed by Stuart. They all shook my hand with big smiles, then dressed one of the bikes, and we all took a group picture they could put on their RNF Racing socials.
Cal also introduced me to some of the English blokes working in Brad Binder’s KTM team, who also enjoyed the podcast, and I remember being approached by one tall fellow out the back of the pits with a set of race leather slung over his shoulder. Pedro Acosta’s race leathers.
“Are you on the MotoPG podcast?” he asked.
I nodded. I had just heard the announcers refer to Acosta as “Baby Jesus”, a name we had coined for him on the show a while back, I thought I was about to cop a reaming.
“I love the show,” the bloke grinned.
“Thank you very much. What do you do here?” I asked, think he might be one of the race-suit repair guys.
“I look after Pedro Acosta,” he laughed.
“Please wish Baby Jesus strength and glory,” I laughed back.
So I continued my wanderings and observations, repeatedly blown away by both the access I had, and the amount of people in the paddock who liked the podcast.
I was inside the HRC hospitality tent when Damien Cudlin interviewed Marc Marquez. I’d stood at the piss trough with just about every mechanic and crew chief you’ve ever seen on TV, and even shook hands with Rossi’s best friend, Uccio, at that piss tough, in a moment I shall certainly treasure for ever…though I’m still not sure how he’ll remember it.
I went pretty much where I wished and took images of what I wanted to. I immersed myself utterly in the experience.
And I somehow managed to watch the MotoGP race in the company of the Spanish media contingent. In a series of unforgettable weekend moments, that was certainly one of them. We were all much better friends at the end of that great race than we were at the start. Yes, I do know what the word “Puta” means, and I too am happy to yell it at the screen – along with “Vamos!” And I am Rins fan.
I left there that weekend knowing I had beheld a logistical masterwork. I’m still trying to wrap my head around what a mammoth task it is to put something like a MotoGP race together – in various countries no less – and make it all work, time after time. The catering, the filming, the scheduling, the transportation, the communications, the cat-herding, the problem-solving…it makes your head spin to think about it.
And when I left Phillip Island, my head just kept on spinning. It’s taken me a more than a week to process all I had seen and all I had done. Obviously, I have left things out of my story. But they are things not relevant to the tale, and if you want to know what a Moto3 after-race party looks like, you’ll need to get yourself a paddock pass, and get to the corner nightclub at Cowes on Sunday night.
Which is where I found Jack Miller and Joel Kelso that Sunday evening. I had just eaten at Pino’s (and if you’re waiting in line to get a table there, I reckon I could hire Kevin Magee out to you for a good price, because they always have a table for Kevin at Pino’s), enjoyed a few beers with Simon Crafar, and was now being dragged to the Moto3 party by Friedo.
Joel Kelso was celebrating, as was Ixan Guevarra and his crew. Joel was clutching three bottles of Jack and Coke, and demanding I buy him more, while Ixan was doubtlessly still wondering why he could not get a table at Pino’s. Telling him it’s because he was Spanish might have put a downer on his world-champion celebrations, so I kept quiet.
Jack and Ruby welcomed Freido and I with hugs, and immediately supplied us with Vodka Red Bulls Jack personally mixed from a vast supply of both beverages, chilling in two baby bathtubs.
I offered to strangle Alex Marquez for him once again, as I’d had after the race. Jack laughed it off. Of course he did. He’s a polished professional. But as long as he knows there are people like me out there…
We didn’t chat for long. Jack had lots of people who wanted to have a drink with him, but I’ll always remember what he said to me that Sunday night.
“Borrie, I’m just a filthy old motorcycle racer. I just wanna race bloody motorcycles!” he declared. “That’s all. That’s it.”
You know something, Jack? That’s why we love you. And all the ones who are just like you.
And we always will.
Thank you to Dorna and Fox Sports for the access, and thanks to all the great people who took the time to come and say hello. It was very humbling.
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Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.